BANGOR, Maine — City officials will hold a public forum next week as part of a feasibility study that will look at establishing a stormwater utility fee for Bangor residents.
Wendy Warren, Bangor’s environmental coordinator, said the utility fee idea surfaced a few months ago as a way to offset large increases in time and resources needed to meet increased state and federal regulations governing stormwater pollution.
“Wherever there is urbanization, there is rain runoff that collects pollutants along the way and ends up in streams and rivers. It’s been a problem for decades, but it hasn’t been effectively addressed,” Warren said in January.
The city recently hired the James W. Sewall Co. and Packard Judd Kaye to assist in a feasibility study that would outline Bangor’s best options. Representatives of those firms and city leaders will make a presentation and answer questions at a public session at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 19, at Bangor City Hall.
Utility fees are becoming more common in larger communities across the Northeast, including in Lewiston, which instituted a stormwater utility fee in 2007. Sometimes, though, they are a tough sell to residents who already feel economically pinched.
Any decision on whether to establish a utility fee in Bangor would rest with the City Council, but some councilors have said that, in general, user fees are more equitable than a straight tax increase. The council is weighing similar actors in its discussion over switching to single-stream recycling and a pay-as-you-throw trash removal system.
At the moment, a proposed stormwater utility fee — similar to a sewer or water fee — is estimated to cost $12 per quarter for a single-family home.
Although a fee seems punitive, officials in Lewiston have said it actually created a funding mechanism that more fairly distributes the cost of stormwater management. Residential properties generate less runoff than commercial parcels, but before the utility fee, residential property taxes paid more than half the costs of stormwater management while tax-exempt properties paid nothing.
A fee system in Bangor could encourage collaboration on stormwater management efforts, according to Warren. For instance, she said, there could be efficiencies in creating a drainage system that could serve 10 small businesses as opposed to building 10 small systems.
More information about the city’s stormwater management plan, titled the Bangor Clear Streams Project, is available online at www.bangormaine.gov.